TIP: Working with someone who monopolizes group

You may have had this experience in group where things are going along quite well, until a certain person, let’s call him Jones, starts to talk.  Your heart sinks immediately, because you now that once Jones starts, he goes on for quite a while, and all the energy you have built in the group dies a slow death.  You hope that Jones will get the hint and stop talking, but nothing seems to faze him, and every time you think he’s coming to an end, he starts back up again.  Your group slowly falls asleep.  You feel upset, because when Jones first joined the group, you were excited and encouraged his participation, but then his participation turned into monopolizing the group.  Other group members seem bored, but they don’t interrupt him, because if they do, they know they will have to talk, and would rather Jones do all the talking so that they can check out.  Part of the reason they check out is because often, what Jones is talking about is boring.  It is not personal or relevant or depthful.  It is not meaningful.  Here are some ideas regarding what you can do to help someone like Jones, help yourself, and help the group.  Essentially, the goals are: to help Jones share more vulnerably (it’s not that you want Jones to shut up necessarily, it’s that you want what he shares to be meaningful; to help Jones increase his awareness of others and respond to social cues; to help the group step up and support Jones with this; and, to help Jones develop skills around sharing and self-disclosure.

  1. Interrupt: get comfortable interrupting group members and let group members know right up front that there will be times you will interrupt them to highlight a skill or reinforce something. The language I usually use sounds something like, “Jones, I’m going to pause you for a second here.”  Or it could be, “Jones, I know you’re on a roll here, so pardon my interruption”.
  2. Ask questions: once you’ve interrupted Jones, follow it with a question. This might be something like:
    1. “What you are saying is really important, and I want to make sure others have a chance to respond. So, group, what have you heard Jones say?”
    2. “Group, what did you notice Jones do differently?”
    3. “Jones, as you look around, what do you notice about how engaged people are?”
    4. “Jones, what are you hoping to get from group right now?”
    5. “Group, what’s going on right now that we are making Joes do all the work?”
  3. Teach skills: it could be that Jones doesn’t know how to read the group, or perhaps he doesn’t know how to respond when the group seems disinterested. I have had a client say to me that when people seem bored as he is talking, he thinks the way to get them interested is to keep talking.  So, try this:
    1. Ask the group, “how do you know when people are interested in what you are saying?  What would their body language look like?”
    2. Ask the group to model that body language.
    3. Ask the group for strategies to use to make sure people are engaged when we are sharing. These strategies include asking questions, making comments, sharing personally, etc.
    4. Then, when Jones starts to talk, ask him to pause, look around and notice the body language. If he notices people checking out, ask him to use one of the engaging techniques.
  4. Provide challenges: when Jones starts to share, pause him and provide him a challenge – to only use I statements; to say what he has to say in under two minutes; to share for two minutes and then ask a question of the group members.

These are a few ideas that I hope are helpful.  What other strategies have you tried?

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